If sociopaths are so common and cause so much damage, why aren’t more of us forewarned?
Being victimized by a sociopath doesn’t just happen to a few, rare foolhardy people, it happens to lots of people—lots of everyday people who play by the rules. I know that blaming victims of sociopaths for the harm inflicted on them or simply ignoring them is a defense mechanism for others who want to feel that they could never be victimized. Those abused must have made a stupid decision, chosen to be blind, unconsciously wanted it to happen, played a significant role in their unraveling, and so it goes. Of course, in most cases this isn’t true, but it’s comforting and self-protecting for nonvictims to think so.
Still, sociopaths cause so much damage why don’t most parents know this and tell their teenage and young adult children to be very, very careful about whom is allowed into their life? We inoculate our children against harmful diseases. Why so little preemptive action when it comes to the emotional, physical, psychological and financial harm caused by sociopaths?
I’m not sure it was always like this. If you look back at fairy tales, the warnings are pretty clear. Most of the original fairy tales have pretty dangerous sociopathic characters.
Little Red Riding Hood is a great example. My version of Little Red Riding Hood comes from The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang. It is translated from Charles Perrault’s version of more than three hundred years ago.
Story: Little Red Riding Hood is beautiful and has a loving, kind mother and grandmother.
Reality: Many victims of sociopaths are kind, loving people. Think about it, someone mean and narcissistic probably wouldn’t attract a sociopath. Such people simply wouldn’t provide the sociopath with the initial adulation required and would exit post haste when the sociopath switched from love-bombing to devaluing.
Story: On route to bringing her ill grandmother custard and butter, Little Red Riding Hood meets a wolf in the woods. She doesn’t realize it’s dangerous to “stay and hear a wolf talk.” Red Riding Hood tells the wolf about her planned visit to her grandmother in the first house in the village.
Reality: Although Little Red Riding Hood probably turns heads due to her beauty (“prettiest creature ever seen”) and her scarlet cap, is this why the wolf notices her? There is no evidence that this is true. As in life, there is a large element of serendipity—of a chance meeting. Their paths simply cross in the forest. But once their paths cross, the wolf takes take full advantage of the situation; so would a sociopath.
In addition, relationships with sociopaths can evolve very quickly. Sociopaths don’t appear dangerous. Their charm and other qualities get victims to trust the sociopath. Also, some have reported that sociopaths have a hypnotic quality to their speech. (This was true of my ex-husband. He had a soft velvety voice that he could turn on and off at will.) As sociopaths read people well and are trusted quickly, targets often divulge information about themselves that is later used to hurt and exploit.
Story: The wolf befriends Little Red Riding Hood, and engages her in a game of who will get to grandma’s fastest. Of course, the wolf picks the shorter of the two routes.
Reality: Sociopaths love both the game (manipulation) and the win (getting something they want at your expense, including your downfall). They can pretend to be your friend, colleague, lover …
Story: The wolf gains entrance to grandmother’s house by pretending to be Little Red Riding Hood. Without hesitation, the wolf eats granny. (After all…it’s a wolf and it hasn’t eaten in three days.)
Reality: Metaphorically, sociopaths erode others and reduce them to nothing. Clearly, there is “nothing” left of grandma. Nonmetaphorically, harming or killing someone to get what they want would not bother a sociopath as long as they were confident they could get away with it.
Story: The wolf manipulated Little Red Riding Hood to get information about grandma, then manipulated grandma to gain entrance to the house. The wolf’s manipulation continues as he pretends to be grandma to manipulate Little Red Riding Hood again.
Reality: Sociopaths are great actors. They will take on whatever role is required to get what they want. Whom they appear to be can change in an instant. After all, it’s all an act to get something they want at your expense.
Story: When Little Red Riding Hood knocks at her grandmother’s door and the wolf answers, Little Red Riding Hood is “at first afraid.” But she decides that grandmother’s voice must be hoarse due to her cold.
Reality: Those involved in a relationship with a sociopath report that they had a sense that something was wrong. Yet, not knowing what was wrong, they ignored the warning signs (e.g., fear, discomfort, unease) and their intuition.
Story: Rationalizing away her fear, Little Red Riding Hood enters the house. When “grandma” directs Little Red Riding Hood to undress and get in bed with “grandma,” Little Red Riding Hood obeys.
Reality: Even though the house is on the village’s edge, the wolf effectively isolates Little Red Riding Hood, by getting her to enter the house. Isolating victims is a tactic of sociopaths and other abusive people. Since the grandmother’s house is at the edge of the village, it is also possible that if Little Red Riding Hood could get outside and call for help, that the wolf would not risk an attack and Little Red Riding Hood would survive the encounter. Yet, once Little Red Riding Hood gets in bed with the wolf, that even if she realizes then that “granny” is a wolf, Little Red Riding Hood’s fate is now sealed—she’s just in too deep. (I’ll let you ponder the likely implied sexual connotations and the broader metaphoric meaning of “being in bed” with someone.”),
Story: The famous exchange transpires:
Little Red Riding Hood: …what great arms you have!
Wolf: … the better to hug thee, my dear.
Little Red Riding Hood: …what great legs you have!
Wolf: … to run the better my child.
Little Red Riding Hood: …what great ears you have!
Wolf: …to hear thee better, my child.
Little Red Riding Hood: …what great eyes you have!
Wolf: …to see you better, my child.
Little Red Riding Hood: Grandma, what great teeth you have got!
Wolf: That is to eat thee up!
And with those words the wolf devours Little Red Riding Hood.
Reality: In retrospect, many victims of sociopaths report there were red flags and concerning behavior on the part of the sociopath. Yet, sociopaths are brilliant at rationalizing away and distracting us from the natural conclusions of our own observations (e.g., what great arms you have). As we don’t know sociopaths are common, those targeted by sociopaths often don’t listen to their intuition and don’t exit in the early stages when it is easier and safer to get out.
As the kind, sweat, loving behavior is all an act to draw you in and make you vulnerable, a sociopath can switch from loving (…”my dear,”….”my child”) to brutally dangerous (“…to eat you up”) in an instant.
Like Little Red Riding Hood, in the end, victims of sociopaths felt destroyed or damaged by the sociopath in some way. Some are brutalized financially, others physically, others emotionally and psychologically. It is often described as identity eroding or soul destroying. Some sociopaths even kill ex-partners and spouses simply to avoid a messy and expensive separation or divorce. To a sociopath, a person is an object to be manipulated for their purposes—nothing more.
Perhaps original fairy tales were designed to be disturbing and unsettling. There are dangerous people in the world. They may even be disguised as friends and family. Yet, there often are subtle warning signs. Your best defense against such people is to know that they exist and are brilliant, patient actors. Listen to your intuition! Remember, Little Red Riding Hood pushed aside her fear when she heard her grandmother’s altered voice. Her fear was a gift. She should have embraced it, listened to it and never opened the door.
(What I learned about sociopaths from my corrosive marriage and toxic divorce is chronicled in my book, Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned, available via Amazon.com.)
Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.